Way of the Argosi is a cleverly constructed novel, one of a series as well as a fantastic standalone book, written to convey to the reader the origins of the character Ferius Parfax from the classic Spellslinger. The author, Sebastien de Castell is a multi-talented writer with an astounding aptitude to be able to keep his readers enthralled, young and old. He published this novel in 2021.
From the first glance, the cover is eye-catching and sits well with the whole series that de Castell has written, and the quality of the read itself is of a high standard. I would categorise this as young adult fiction, however, this does not mean it is only relatable or appropriate for teens, on the contrary, I know many adults who would appreciate this book. The work holds a clear display of the author’s love for the written and spoken word, by using prose, wordplay and by showing a strong grasp of complex philosophy. He has the ability to integrate these tricky concepts into a novel, an accomplishment in and of itself.
Way of the Argosi communicates so many complex ideas so brilliantly, it’s difficult to know where to begin on this review. However, I do wish to discuss the main character, who is nameless, to begin with, due to her Mahdek culture where each individual chooses their own name and has pride and responsibility when they become of age.
“I feel like telling her that no Mahdek would ever tell an eleven-year-old to be quiet. They wouldn’t call me a girl either, because it’s not until we turn thirteen that we stand before our tribe and tell everyone who and what we are inside. At my age, I’m supposed to be searching for my spirit animal – the beast or bird who will be my companion as I make my way in the world, whispering its counsel to me, guiding me through life.
How is a spirit animal supposed to hear you calling if you’re quiet all the time?” (Way of the Argosi, ch.1 p.2)
Here we see how the author grips the reader through an alien concept of children making decisions on who they want to be in their lives, what their calling is, and gives a brief understanding that the Mahdek people appear to be deep-thinking, not too dissimilar to that of the Argosi.
We watch this character go from a proud individual who is separated from her people, being taught a different culture and lifestyle by kind strangers to end up a common, feral street-rat after she is tortured and experimented on by mages who hate her people and their way of life.
Already we are a third through the book at this point. There’s so much to take in and learn about this child’s wretched life, at a young age one might find it implausible to see how a person can hit such a low rock bottom, but it can happen to anyone – especially when magic is involved. We read on to see her crossing paths with an older man, who is an intriguing individual: an Argosi. This character is a philosopher, as is their way, and he answers her questions through the medium of – what appears to be – a card reading… sort of.
Due to the experiments from the mages that the girl received at the beginning of the book, we understand that she is cursed, so anyone who she meets throughout her life will feel hatred towards her, should they be a person of good morals. The girl has brands across her neck that burn and people she meets, the other street urchins and even thieves have their minds twisted against her from the magic of these sigils, causing them to hate her. However, the Argosi is more resistant to the magic, one could speculate that this might be because he is not a good man, a question to which the girl does ask of herself. Another theory could be that his culture and philosophy teach him how to be logical, and shows him the right paths to take in life.
The culture and world-building of the Argosi is a deeply thought-out structure that the author has taken time to dive into, and this makes the book more gripping. The way of an Argosi is different from any Western mindset we see in the real world, and it made me feel as though this could be a real way of life, a tangible culture we could experience. I would not be surprised if I came across people who actually take this culture on, similar to Trekkies who live by the morals and ethics of Star Trek (Jindra, 1994) from a religious standpoint.
Way of the Argosi has so much potential, and I do feel that the richness of the world in which de Castell has written, gives the series from Spellslinger so much more durability. When one explores the background of their characters it brings the whole world they’ve created together and makes it real, helping the reader understand plot twists and key elements in a story (MasterClass, 2021). I would easily understand if fans of the series wanted to write fanfiction because the history is so in-depth and the world environment is so rich. This would be a wonderful breeding ground of creativity for fans to add their own take on what could happen if Ferius’ gang of thieves weren’t able to be swayed by the magic of her curse or if the Argosi had actually killed her.
Apologies for the abrupt end here, but there is so much to explore, so much to cover in this book you need to read it for yourself. De Castell is an expert at incorporating deep thought into his work, making the reader think twice about how Ferius interacts with the world around her through the morals that she has learned from the Argosi, Durral Brown. We learn that violence is not the only way out of a sticky situation and we see a new magical world, full of new possibilities open up for Ferius. The magic system and environment are truly remarkable concepts, which I will endeavour to explore further.
As well as having beautiful illustrations throughout, referencing the cards the Argosi uses to explain life and everything in it, this is a phenomenal novel, a gripping must-read for all book lovers of the Fantasy genre!
Way of the Argosi Summary
Theme: The book is a fantasy novel that explores the origins of Ferius Parfax, the trials and tribulations in which she has to explore and work through before finding her own path. Suitable for ages 14+, I found this more relatable as an adult than I would have as a child.
Description: There are plenty of violent references and some graphic descriptions of blood and bodily functions. Not a PG-rated novel, but for teens who love magic and a solid backstory, this might be a great choice for you.
Narration: The book is written in the first person from the viewpoint of Ferius Parfax and has incorporated into the writing, a lot of philosophical ideologies, which for young and impressionable minds might need supervision as these concepts are NOT real.
Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.
Sebastien’s acclaimed swashbuckling fantasy series, The Greatcoats. was shortlisted for both the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy. the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut, the Prix Imaginales for Best Foreign Work, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His YA fantasy series, Spellslinger, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and is published in more than a dozen languages.
Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.
Jindra, M. (1994) Sociology of Religion: Star Trek Fandom as a Religious Phenomenon. 55(1). pp. 27-51
MasterClass. (2021) How to Write Compelling Character Backstories: Step-by-Step Guide. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-compelling-character-backstories#what-is-a-character-backstory
Sebastien de Castell Website – https://decastell.com/book/way-of-the-argosi/
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Sebastien de Castell Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sebastiendecastell/?hl=en